The Miami Heat have their sights set on repeating last season’s championship run by returning the same core players from a year ago. The Chicago Bulls hope a few key offseason additions can help them challenge for their first NBA title in nine seasons.
The Heat begin their defense of the franchise’s first championship when they host the Bulls Tuesday in a rematch of last season’s Eastern Conference first-round playoff series.
In its first trip to the NBA finals last season, Miami rallied from an 0-2 deficit against Dallas to win the first title in the 18-year history of the team. That championship banner will be hoisted on Tuesday, but Heat coach Pat Riley wants his team to focus on the new season.
“We earned a world championship and we’re proud as hell of it,” Riley said. “We’re going to defend it. We’re not going to look back with nostalgia about it. That’s been won. It’s been experienced. It’s been enjoyed. And now we’re back to work. That’s what happens with every championship team. The summer ends.”
“I think this is a hell of a team,” Riley said. “I think they’re smart, they’re versatile, they have talent and they can get better. So I didn’t want to disrupt that at all.”
The Heat ended last season with the second-best record in the East at 52-30, and faced a Chicago squad in the first round that finished with a .500 record.
The Bulls, however, played well down the stretch and managed to tie the first-round series 2-2 after losing the first two games in Miami. The Heat, though, went on to eliminate Chicago in six games.
O’Neal was outstanding in the series clinching victory with 30 points and 20 rebounds, and Wade finally broke out of his shooting slump against the Bulls in the playoffs.
The Chicago native averaged just 12.3 points on 24.3 percent shooting in three games against the Bulls in the regular season—both season lows against any opponent—before averaging 24.7 points on 44.0 percent shooting against them in the playoffs.
Entering his fourth year, Wade is coming off a season where he averaged 27.2 points, 6.7 assists and 5.7 rebounds. He shot 49.5 percent from the field— fifth-best among guards—to lead the Heat to the best shooting offense in the East (47.8 percent) and the conference’s third-best scoring offense (99.9 points).
Wade then went on to post 32.7 points, 6.8 rebounds and 5.4 assists in 23 playoff games.
“A lot of teams are going be measuring themselves up to us, whether we’re at our best at the beginning of the year or not,” Wade said. “On one hand, it’s an honor. On the other, it’s going to be tough.”
The Bulls are one of those teams eager to contest the Heat for supremacy in the East.
Chicago has reached the playoffs the past two seasons, but hasn’t won a postseason series since winning the championship in 1998.
The Bulls led the NBA in opponents field-goal percentage for the second straight season in 2005-06 at 42.6, and bolstered their defense with the addition of free agent Ben Wallace.
“I wasn’t going to leave Detroit to go to a team that wasn’t going to be a contender,” said Wallace, who signed a four-year, $60 million deal after helping the Pistons win a title in his six seasons with the club.
Wallace ranked fourth in the NBA last season in rebounding (11.3), ninth in blocks (2.2) and 10th in steals (1.78)—the only player among the top 10 in all three categories—as he earned his fourth Defensive Player of the Year Award.
The Bulls also obtained forward P.J. Brown from New Orleans in exchange for Tyson Chandler, signed swingman Adrian Griffin and acquired Tyrus Thomas—the No. 4 overall pick—in a draft-day trade with Portland.
The 6-foot-9 Thomas led LSU to the Final Four and averaged 12.3 points, nine rebounds and 3.1 blocks as a redshirt freshman.
“He has an uncanny ability to block shots,” Bulls general manager John Paxson said. “His reactions and instincts defensively are excellent. He’s versatile. He’s got big hands. … He’s a guy who can play behind Kirk (Hinrich) and Ben (Gordon) and give us size.”
Hinrich averaged a career-high 15.9 points to go along with 6.3 assists per game, while Gordon posted a career-best 16.9 points in his second season in the NBA.
Andres Nocioni will be looking to build off his solid performance against Miami in last season’s playoffs. He averaged 22.3 points and 8.0 rebounds in the series after posting just 13.0 points and 6.1 boards in the regular season.